Counter Review: Young Adult: Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

Beautiful Broken Things cover

I was brave
She was reckless
We were trouble

Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable. Their differences have brought them closer, but as she turns sixteen Caddy begins to wish she could be a bit more like Rosie – confident, funny and interesting. Then Suzanne comes into their lives: beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious, and things get a whole lot more complicated. As Suzanne’s past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be. But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realizes, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own.

Title: Beautiful Broken Things(Fragile Like Us[US])
Author: Sara Barnard
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books (UK) / Simon Pulse
Publication Date: February 25th 2016 / July 18th 2017
Format: Ebook
Length: 322 pages
ISBN-10: 150980353X
ISBN-13: 9781509803538

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: MPDG?, friendship, female friendship, mental illness
POV: First person
Tense: Past tense

Why I Read It: I’ve been struggling to find good YA to read, so I just looked at the Goodreads lists for all YA published in 2016/2017 and got a few that looked interest based on synopsis and reviews.  This was one of them.  I tend to think negative reviews give me more info about whether I’ll like a book than positive ones, and the negative reviews here made this seem interesting.  Plus I have a hard time finding YA to read set outside the US, so…  yeah.

Reviewer: Atsiko Ureni

Review Notes:  Spoiler warnings?  I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but there might be a few minor things from the beginning of the book.  No major spoilers, though.

Review:  I’ve called this a “counter-review” for a few reasons.  Not because I think people shouldn’t be allowed differing opinions, but because I think one side of the argument hasn’t been heard as loudly as it deserves.  And because reviews are personal opinion, so what works for one reader might not work for another.

One of the prime criticisms of the book is that the main character is unlikeable.  Selfish, self-centered, jealous, and privileged.  Now, it seems to be that last adjective that drives so many people crazy about our MC Caddy.  After all, she complains she’s never had anything bad happen to her.  And nothing exciting or a combination thereof, either.  And to this, I say, have y’all met a teenager before?  We’re y’all ever teenagers?  ‘Cause this ain’t some odd, gross quirk.  All teenagers, and most people really, are selfish, and self-centered, and get jealous.  And so so many teens think they are dull and boring.

But, you say, why does she envy the tragedies of her friends and family?  Again, have y’all met teenagers?  Have you read YA with its dark and brooding and tragic love interests?  Tragedy is gossip, it is mystery, it can be all the things that teenagers find interesting in others.  Caddy is damn right the bad things that happened to her friend and her sister make them more interesting.  Now, it might be privileged for her to wish something had happened to her instead; her friend and her sister might wish they’d lived a normal and boring life.  But the grass is always greener on the other side exactly because all sides suck.  Not equally, and not in the same way, but Caddy’s feelings and behavior are realistic.  Teens (and adults and kids) feel these things.  They are not rare and do not make Caddy a horrible person.  I’m not saying they aren’t flaws.

And the same goes for her complaints about her parents and her life with them.  Caddy is very lucky in many ways, but that doesn’t mean she’s not allowed to have her own problems that matter to her.

Now, Caddy takes these idle thoughts and puts them into practice.  She makes a mistake.  A big one.  But again, not uncommon.  She hurts someone with her petty jealousy.  But so have most people.

I liked that Barnard was willing to portray the characters realistically, even in their worst moments, because that’s what makes them interesting as characters.  I liked that the book almost entirely left out romance.  Romance and the pursuit of romance are going to be serious focuses for many teenagers.  But they aren’t all there is.  The fact that the books focuses on female friendship was one of the things that most recommended it to me.  And that Barnard was willing to show that friendship can be a complex relationship with good and bad intentions and good and bad outcomes is something you don’t see in a lot of YA.  Sure, you see frenemies and toxic, abusive friendships.  But to me, this wasn’t that.  It was toxic, but it was also earnest, and it wasn’t based on total lack of other choices for the characters becoming friends.

Caddy’s friendship with Suzanne was based on misunderstandings of who Suzanne really was, what friendship is supposed to achieve, and what the proper way to help someone is.  And those are issues that teenagers everywhere face every day.  The answers aren’t always easy to find.  Teenagers often don’t know them.  Adults don’t know them.

And comparing herself to her friends is also a reality of many teenagers, especially with social media allowing us to curate our lives and present a false front even to people who may feel close to us.  When you’re trying to figure out who you are, trying to figure out how you fit together with others, shorthand and labels are a convenient and tempting way to approach the issue.  The girl whose sister died.  The bipolar kid.  Those are simplistic, but humans are all about simplifying.  Something, even something tragic, is better than nothing.  That’s why you get cliques, though they’re over-played in the media.  That’s why people so jealously guard their obscure fandoms and interests from the mainstream.  I’m not saying that’s the right response or the best response, and neither is this book.  In fact, I’d argue the books exposes those reactions, Caddy’s reactions, as flawed approaches that one should try to avoid.

And, getting to the heart of what drives the plot, the book’s depiction of mental illness and how it scares you into hiding from people, even from friends and family, and how people try to pass the blame to the ill person was a major positive for me.  You think you understand people, but there’s a good chance that you don’t.  Just like Caddy misunderstood the impact of the bad things that happened to those around her, leaving her envious, she misunderstood the motivations for her two friends’ actions, leading her into making poor choices.

In one scene(this is not a major spoiler), she leaves her friend at a party alone with a guy to care for another friend.  There’s been a lot of pushback in reviews about this scene, but personally, I thought it was very well done.  Caddy thought she understood what her friend wanted, and because she didn’t, she made a mistake that damaged their friendship.  People make mistakes like this all the time.  It’s what’s used to cause tension in many romantic relationships or romantic pursuits, where one side thinks they know what the other wants, but they don’t.  Characters in YA novels get held to a very high standard for proper behavior.  Especially female characters.

And I think that’s valuable, both for creating good stories, and for any moral imperative folks might think YA books should support.  But sometimes, the standard is too high, and just like in real life, people pick and choose based on their subjective personal feelings whether to hold a character to account.  Have you as a reader or a person ever seen a guy criticized for leaving a friend alone at a party with a girl?  Maybe.  But it’s pretty uncommon in my experience.  And perhaps it shouldn’t be.

Neither Caddy nor the novel surrounding her are perfect.  But just as Caddy believes no one will be interested in her if her life is perfect and grief-less, neither is a novel where nothing bad happens and the character never makes any mistakes likely to be popular with readers.  We treat real-life human lives as narratives as much as we do fictional ones, and if there’s one thing Caddy gets perfectly right in this book, it’s understanding that, even if subconsciously, even if she doesn’t necessarily draw the best conclusions from that premise.

You can probably guess from the jacket copy and the reveiws, and the existence of a trade published novel, that Caddy gets her significant life event, and that it stems from her flawed way of inserting herself into the world.  Whether or not it makes her cool and interesting, or teaches her any valuable lessons is something you’ll have to find out from actually reading this book.

There’s nothing spectacularly original or thrilling about the individual pieces Sara Barnard has put together to build this book.  But the way she has put them together is something you don’t get to see too often in YA, even if the execution is lacking in a few places.  (Particularly, the way the supporting characters had drives of their own rather than being props for the MC to explore her world.)  And the ending–though it gave a bit at the end, blunting the force of the lesson for the MC–was exactly the sort of bittersweetness I enjoy from a good contempary YA.

Conclusion: 77/100 (A strong showing, though not without flaws)
Premise: 7/10 (Seen it before, but not this well-explored)
Plot: 7/10 (Nothing new, but supports some really interesting themes)
Setting: 8/10 (Well-described)
Main Character: 8/10 (Can be a tad annoying, but interesting complex)
Friendship: 8/10 (Shows a contemp novel can stand without a romance b-plot)
Mental Illness: 8/10 (Well-explored)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Well-portrayed, clearly had their own agendas)
Writing: 7/10 (Competent)
Themes: 8/10 (Well-developed)
Resolution: 8/10 (Not perfect, but striking)

Buy Or Borrow:  If you’re worried that Caddy isn’t the kind of flawed character that really interests you, you should probably borrow a copy of Beautiful Broken Things;  But if you’re curious to find out why exactly I differ so strongly from the many critical reviews of the book and its main character, I think it’s worth your money to purchase a copy.

Similar Books:

N/A

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
The Guardian –  Childrens’ Books
The Bibliomaniac
Queen of Contemporary
Happy Indulgence Books
Debbish.com
The Books Are Everywhere

Buy Links:
Amazon (US)
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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Book Review: Young Adult: After the Fall by Kate Hart

After the Fall

A YA debut about a teen girl who wrestles with rumors, reputation, and her relationships with two brothers.

Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing. But Raychel doesn’t want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother. The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together.

Title: After the Fall
Author: Kate Hart
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Farrar, Straus. & Giroux
Publication Date: January 24, 2017
Format: E-book
Length: 336 pages
ISBN-10: 0374302715
ISBN-13: 9780374302719

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards: N/A

Themes: consent, grief, romance, college, small towns
POV: Dual first-person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Nick and Marisa

Where We Got It: Marisa bought it after hearing about it on goodreads and loaned it to me to see if I agreed with her.  Spoilers:  I did.

Marisa’s Cover Notes:  Love the colors, but the image is kinda boring, I guess.  It does connect to the plot, but I wish there was more emotion in it or a more concrete image from the story.  This could be the cover of any random YA novel.  (Usually I listen to music when I read, but this time I was watching TV “with” my mom, so no soundtrack.)

Review:

Nick

Technically I’m here to give the male perspective, I guess.  This was originally Marisa’s review, but she wanted to know if being a guy changed my perception of the story and characters.  A little bit, I guess, but not much.

Marisa

I have two main complaints about this book.  One, the pacing was all over the place because the author tried to stuff way too much stuff into one story without doing the enough build-up for it all.  Either the romantic plot, the assault plot, the what am I doing after high school plot or the surprise twist would have been enough to carry the story on their own, especially given the several b-plots in the book.  But all at once was too ambitious.  I don’t think the author had the skill to pull it off, though some authors might have had.

My second issue is that the characters were all annoying as all heck, and I couldn’t really sympathize with any of the main characters.  Maybe that’s because the author didn’t do a good enough job presenting their background?

Nick

I happen to agree with Marisa on both those points.  Further, I think she agreed with me that the so-called “feminist” issues in the book were not handled well.  The assault especially was believable, but the characters all responded way too after-school special to them.  In fact, Marisa pointed out one line in the book was an almost perfect rip-off of the popular quote that girls aren’t vending machines you put kindness coins into until sex falls out.  I am 100% behind tackling these issues in YA.  But I think it’s important to handle the issue in a way that comes off as a natural follow-up the the events of the story and also to not sound preachy.

Marisa

There was a really-strong sense of authorial intrusion in the way the characters talked to Raychel about her assault.  In particular one character was oddly flip-floppy in how strongly she pushed to present the assault as rape but then said reporting it was a waste of time.  And this character did not feel like they were stepping into the narrative naturally.  It felt very forced.  I think that could turn off a lot of readers to the truths the author was trying to convey.  I’ve seen this book compared to Courtney Summers, but it’s miles apart in the way the similar subject matter is handled.  It was very disappointing.

Nick

I think what it comes down to is that this book was all over the place, and that made it hard to address any particular aspect of it with the kind of nuance the topics it covers deserved.  It felt rather slow in the first half, and rushed in the second half, because the author couldn’t seem to decide what was the most important point and so she found herself with a lot of loose ends to tie up.

Marisa

I think Nick’s right.  If the author had picked three of the moderate to major themes/plots threads to focus on, she could have written a really good novel exploring those things.  But as it is, the book just feels shallow in a lot of places.  And I don’t think that gives it enough power to really drive home the author’s points to the audience.  The premise is good, but the execution is severely lacking.

Conclusion: 61/100 (Author’s reach exceeds her grasp)
Premise: 8/10 (So much wasted potential)
Plot: 4/10 (Ugh?  Ugh.)
Setting: 7/10 (Very solid, but could have used more development)
Main Character(s): 6/10 (All kinda jerks and unlikeable cutouts)
Romance: 5/10 (Liked him, but didn’t get her attraction)
Twist: 4/10 (Out of nowhere and seemed kind cheap)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (Better than the MCs)
Writing: 7/10 (Competent but lacking spark)
Themes: 6/10 (Points for ambition, no cookie for execution)
Resolution: 7/10 (Strongest part of the book?)

Buy Or Borrow:  If you must read it, we recommend you borrow from a friend of the library.

Similar Books:

All the Rage or anything from Courtney Summers

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
TeenReads
Portrait of a Book
YA Bibliophile
Pretty Deadly Reviews

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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Book Review: Young Adult: Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

farizan cover

High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.

Title: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel
Author: Sara Farizan
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary with a side of romance
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Format: NetGalley DRC
Length: 306 pages
ISBN-10: 161620284X
ISBN-13: 9781616202842

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes:GLBT
POV: First person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa

Where I Got It: I asked Nick to keep an eye out for interesting contemp novels on NetGalley, especially involving diverse authors or characters. He gave me the summary for this one, and it sounded fun. Even though the cover was pink and had lips on it, it didn’t seem like a standard romance, so I figured why not?

Cover Notes: I really liked the cover here, although it was a bit pink. I think it implies a more classic romance plot than is really present, but that might just be me. I wish there had been more of an actual image here.

Review:

There were a lot of things to like about this book. The main character, Leila was a very good YA MC. She was a bit clueless, and a little privileged; which is fairly standard for YA protags. She also had a bit of a social misfit vibe, which Farizan handled very smoothly. It never felt forced or overdone. Despite Leila going to a fairly elite school, Farizan managed to make the story and Leila’s school life feel accessible to me, a middle class public school kid. That’s something I really like in an author.

Leila’s family, was also well-written, from my perspective. I felt like there was a strong theme of unreliable narration there, in the sense that at first, you really only see them through Leila’s eyes, but as she grows throughout the book, you realize she’s just as clueless about everybody else’s true selves as any teenager. It’s a common theme in YA, but only because it’s pretty common in real life.

The romance plot in the book was also great. Better than many YA romance plots I’ve come across. Saskia is exactly like many of the girls/boys who seem most alluring as a teenager. Now, there are a few cliches common to GLBT romances (and straight ones, too, to be fair): the clueless straight best friend with a crush, etc. But they’re handled pretty well by Farizan. There are some fun twists and turns, and they all felt pretty natural.

I said earlier I didn’t see this book as a classic romance; I think I should elaborate a bit. What I mean is that there’s so much more going on here than a straight romance plot. Many (but not all!) romance stories have way more focus on the romance than I’m interested in. Especially with love triangles–(I’m looking at you, Twilight!). There’s absolutely a strong romance component in this book, and it’s marketed that way. But there’s more than just that romance plot, and I think that gives a book more depth. I think a fair number of readers who aren’t romance fans could still enjoy this book.

Finally, this is a coming-out story. Not only is Leila not out, but she’s also a bit naive about the whole thing, and she believes many stereotypes about lesbians. The coming-out plot itself is fairly standard. There’s nothing shocking or unique about Leila’s experience, although her cultural heritage–she’s Iranian–does add some flavor to it. Farizan telegraphs many of the developments coming-out-wise fairly early, although she manages to keep the romance aspect of it a bit less obvious to the reader. That said, I’m not really criticizing her handling of it. Any readers not familiar with the coming-out narrative in modern fiction will find Farizan’s version accurate and interesting, and there are no real stereotypes perpetrated by the author herself.

Conclusion: 79/100 (Not brilliant, but very enjoyable)
Premise: 8/10 (Interesting, though not unique)
Plot: 8/10 (Engaging)
Setting: 8/10 (Well-depicted)
Main Character: 8/10 (Standard teenager, fun and not irritating)
Coming out plot: 7/10 (Nothing new or unique, but well-written)
Romance plot: 8/10 (Strong and realistic, but still cute and fun)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (No cardboard cut-outs here)
Writing: 4/10 (Engaging)
Voice: 5/10 (Very realistic)
Themes: 8/10 (Well-executed)
Resolution: 7/10 (Very optimistic but not contrived)

Buy Or Borrow: If you’re looking for a contemp with strong romantic or GLBT themes, this is definitely worth a buy. If not, you might be better off borrowing it.

Similar Books:
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth
The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Empress of the World by Sara Ryan

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
YA Midnight Reads
Good Books and Good Wine
Writer of Wrongs
Little Hyuts

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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Book Review: Young Adult: Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes

anatomy cover

Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school. Inside, she’s a freak: a mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA (after all, her father is Romanian). But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauer, first most popular girl in school, will make her life hell. So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life? Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it? Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates? Who?

Title: Anatomy of a Misfit
Author: Andrea Portes
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Harper Children’s
Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 330 pages
ISBN-10: 0062313649
ISBN-13: 9780062313645

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Child Abuse, Family Problems, Slut-shaming
POV: First person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa

How I Found It: Atsiko got his hands on a stack of illicit review copies, told me I might like this one, or at least enjoy reviewing it.

Cover Notes: Simple but effective. Very literary looking. If only the book had lived up to it more.

Soundtrack: After 10 pages, I decided on some late 90s/early 2000s teenager punk indie rock. Kind of like this book, catchy but not that good.

Review:

Several of the other reviews I’ve read have called this “Mean Girls Meets…” It is something like Mean Girls, but nothing like the John Green/Perks of Being a Wallflower second half of the comparison. It’s quirky like Green, but not cute like his books tend to be. It’s got darker themes like Perks but lacks the adolescent insight, and intriguing characters. Really, it’s got quirk and not a lot else. There’s lots of potential in the set-up, but the handling as the books goes on is not that great. For example, the big reveal at the end and the theme it plays on are really great. Anika’s response to it has some great moments and also a place or two where Portes edged too far into melodrama.

The romance sub-plot is a fairly standard love triangle with cliche reasons why Anika can’t just jump into one or the other of her options. The hot nerdy guy who would lower your social status has been around since before YA, and there’s really no new twist on it here. But! LOgan is actually maybe my favorite character in the book, and one of the few I actually liked, besides Anika’s mother. He’s actually a complex character with a great personality and a believable personal problem that flows into the only interesting conflict in the story. And Anika actually has a fairly believable relationship with him. He makes one cringe-worthy remark early on, but if you remember his relationship with Anika a few years before the story starts you could make a good argument it’s kind of cute, in context. I actually sort of like seeing such thin lines in novels, assuming the author doesn’t bumble the scene.

The main antagonist in the story is school Queen Bee Becky Vilhauer. If you can manage not to take her too seriously, she’s quite amusing as a character in a “yeah, right!” sort of way. But as a foil to Anika, she’s a bit ham-handed. And the in-betweener of the popular girls trio, Shellie, is also fun, even if her background is a bit ridiculous. I did wish she had a bit more agency, as she tends to switch back and forth between Anika and Becky.

I don’t think you can take the novel seriously as a realistic portrayal of young adulthood, and I don’t think it deserves all the buzz it’s apparently been getting. I can’t tell if Portes is just new to this whole YA scene or purposely playing on the conventions of the genre. I tend to think the former. But it wasn’t unreadable, and once I accepted is was not really anything like my favorite authors of realistic contemp YA, I did enjoy it in many places.

Conclusion: 75/100 (+10 for kind of enjoying it anyway)
Premise: 5/10 (Cliche)
Plot: 7/10 (Decent, if not inspired)
Setting: 6/10 (Not exciting, very shallowly-developed)
Main Character: 8/10 (Fun, but didn’t like her)
Romance Sub-plot 6/10 (A little too convenient)
Love Interest(s): 6/10 (Standard fare, no flare)
Supporting Characters: 4/10 (Caricatures, really, but consistent)
Writing: 9/10 (Liked the voice and writing)
Themes: 7/10 (Bad execution)
Resolution: 7/10 (Would be higher except for the too-“empowering” ending)

Buy Or Borrow: Probably borrow, but maybe buy if you really like these kind of books.

Similar Books:
Anything by Courtney Summers is like this but actually good.
Gossip Girl is similar but with more melodrama and less quirkiness.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
XPresso Reads
YA Midnight Reads
This Blonde Reads
Turning Pages

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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Book Review: Young Adult: The Bridge from Me to You by Lisa Schroeder

thebridgefrommetoyoucover0

Lauren has a secret. Colby has a problem. But when they find each other, everything falls into place.

Lauren is the new girl in town with a dark secret. Colby is the football hero with a dream of something more. In alternating chapters, they come together, fall apart, and build something stronger than either of them thought possible–something to truly believe in.

Title: The Bridge from Me to You
Author: Lisa Schroeder
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary/Contemp Romance
Publisher: Scholastic (Point)
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Length: 336 pages
ISBN-10: 0545646014
ISBN-13: 9780545646017

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Family Problems
POV: Alternating First Person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa

How I Found It: I’d heard a fair amount about Lisa Schroeder before reading this, particularly about her habit of writing verse novels. In fact, I assumed before reading this that both characters would have their chapters in verse. When Nick said he had an ARC from NetGalley for Schroeder’s newest book and would I like to review it, I was very excited.

Cover Notes: I’ve used the hardback edition cover here. My ARC had a different one. To be honest, I didn’t care much for either of them. They just seemed so generic. I wanted a cover that better represented Lauren and Colby.

Soundtrack: The book is set in the Pacific Northwest–Oregon specifically, and Lauren has just moved to a new town from Seattle, Washington. Naturally I went for some indie folk and rock. Lisa Scroeder apparently had the same idea, because I found out a few chapters in that Lauren’s best friend in her new town loves The Head and the Heart.

Review:

This is going to be a complicated review. I’ve heard a lot of people praising Schroeder’s use of verse in novels. I also saw a few reviewers compare Bridge to The Fault in Our Stars. Neither of these assessments are accurate in my view. The book does not live up to the quality I expect in YA literature these days, and it certainly isn’t the next TFIOS.

The first problem I had with the book was that Lauren’s poetry chapters were too short. The poetry wasn’t very good, although it had a few nice moments. It would have worked just fine as stream of consciousness prose in instead of “poetry”. I liked Lauren’s character, and there were a couple chapters in my ARC where hers was in prose. I loved the chapters much more than any of her others. I think I would have liked the book more if Schroeder had used that format. It seemed kind of like the poetry in this novel was a gimmick more than a well-thought out stylistic choice. And as I said, Lauren’s chapters were so short. I felt like she was the real main character of the story, and I wish she had gotten more page time.

Lauren herself was a very interesting character. She had a dark event in her past, and it was not what I was expecting. I felt like it did a great job of informing her character, and differentiating her from many other YA Romance protags out there. That’s one of the things that made this novel so disappointing for me. It had such potential. That might be the major theme of this review, really. I also liked Lauren’s relationship with her uncle’s family. It was very realistic, and it informed a lot of my opinions on Lauren’s character.

I did have one nit to pick, which was how hard the author beat the “new girl” drum. Being the new kid, especially in a small town, can be tough. But it never actually seemed to cause Lauren any trouble. Perhaps if we’d seen a bit more of the characters’ school life, it would have been different. But it wasn’t.

Colby was also an interesting character, though I didn’t like him as much as I liked Lauren. He’s a football star, which is a bit cliche, and his issues on the field were similarly cliche. But there were some hints at something deeper. Rather than planning on a football scholarship to college, Colby wants to study engineering. He loves bridges, and there’s a sweet moment where he takes Lauren to a local covered bridge. Naturally, this desire causes a great deal of tension between Colby and the rest of his football-loving small town. Especially when his best friend Benny gets in an accident. But, I did wish there had been a deeper exploration of his character. Like many other initially intriguing aspects of the story, Colby’s character arc felt rushed. I think the novel could have done with another hundred pages or so of development, both of the plot and the characters.

As another example, Colby’s friend Stasia, who later becomes Lauren’s best friend after Stasia’s moved to Berkeley, gets barely any time. Just enough to commiserate a bit about Colby’s apparent disinterest in Lauren. It annoyed me that while Colby got page time with both his friend Benny and their families, Lauren barely gets any time with Stasia, and spends most of it dealing with her uncle or Colby.

I heard somewhere that the novel might be something of a send-up to one of the author’s favorite TV shows, Friday Night Lights. Having seen some of that show, I have to say if that was the intention, it failed. FNL is more like what this book could have been, or should have been. In fact, I would have liked the book a lot more if it was closer to FNL.

In the end, The Bridge from Me to You felt more like the rough draft of a novel to me than a finished piece. While it was a sweet romance, and the characters took their relationship intentionally slow in a away I wish more YA romance characters did, that wasn’t enough to save it from its many flaws.

ETA:  All of that said, I’m not writing off the entire author.  I’ve heard great things about her other books, and I do love the concept of a verse novel.

Conclusion: 60/100 (I wanted to like it, but I couldn’t)
Premise: 4/10 (Not the most creative)
Plot: 6/10 (Potential un-reached)
Setting: 6/10 (Standard small football town)
Main Character(s): 8/10 (Stood out in an otherwise mediocre novel)
Love Interest 6/10 (Had potential, didn’t reach it)
Romance Plot 5/10 (Didn’t live up to it’s potential)
Supporting Characters: 6/10 (The ones I really liked got very little page time)
Writing: 3/5 (Did not care for the poetry or the prose, but it was readable)
Voice: 2/5 (Lauren was decent, didn’t buy Colby as a teenage boy)
Themes: 7/10 (Great themes, but poor execution)
Resolution: 7/10 (Sweet, but a bit cliche)

Buy Or Borrow: Borrow from the library or a friend if you must, but I didn’t find it worth the cost.

Similar Books:
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
The Sky Always Hears Me by Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
YA Books Central
teenreads
rather be reading ya
Candace’s Book Blog

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
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Book Review: Young Adult: The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

thetruthaboutalicecover

Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party. When Healy High star quarterback, Brandon Fitzsimmons, dies in a car crash, it was because he was sexting with Alice. Ask anybody.

Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It’s written all over the “slut stall” in the girls’ bathroom: “Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers” and “Alice got an abortion last semester.” After Brandon dies, the rumors start to spiral out of control. In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students tell all they “know” about Alice–and in doing so reveal their own secrets and motivations, painting a raw look at the realities of teen life. But in this novel from Jennifer Mathieu, exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there’s only one person to ask: Alice herself.

Title: The Truth About Alice
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemp/Issues Book
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Format: Hardback
Length: 208 pages
ISBN-10: 1596439092
ISBN-13: 978-1596439092

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Bullying, Slut-shaming, Rumours/Gossip
POV: Multiple first person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Nick Morgan

Review:

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu is formatted sort of like a series of interviews. It investigates the truth of the rumours that Alice Franklin had sex with two guys at one party. Four people involved in the rumours or their aftermath tell their version of the story.

It’s a really cool format, and I really wanted to like the book because of it. To be honest, I think Mathieu nails the format. But the main problem I had with the book was that the four characters are quite stereotypical, and I didn’t feel like we get quite enough depth to their characters. Instead, the book focused on plot twists based on what information was available to each character. Again, I think that was well done, but it wasn’t enough on its own to make this book a winner.

The four characters in the story are:

1. Kelsie, Alice’s sort-of best friend. I felt she had the most nuanced character. She had a lot of direct information on the issue, and what she did with it was quite believable, based on her personality and my personal experiences with similar people in high school. The pressure to fit in and to avoid being associated with the losers of the school, especially the disgraced popular crowd is a strong and realistic motivation.

2. Kurt, a nerdy loner who has a crush on Alice. He doesn’t care much about other people’s opinions, and his position as the neighbor of one of the jocks Alice slept with at the party gives him some unique insight into the situation, as well as info direct from the horse’s mouth.

3. Josh, buddy to Brandon, a typical jock and star quarterbaack known for his way with the ladies and one of the boys rumour says Alice had sex with at the party. Not only is he Brandon’s best friend, he was in the car when it crashed and killed Brandon while he was texting Alice. Or maybe sexting Her? Josh may be caught up in the typical bro-dom of the jock clique at Healy High, but he seems to realize as time goes on that some things are more important that fitting in with the popular kids.

4. Elaine, Healy High’s queen bee and typical mean girl. And the start of all the rumours. Some people can never let go of a grudge, especially against a former friend.

While these POVs give the story throough coverage, it’s that very perfect cross-section that makes the story a bit mechanical. They all fall under pretty common high school stereotypes, and while those stereotypes are based in reality, here they lack a great deal of the subtlety present in real life. In part, this may be due to the short length of the book. And in part it’s probably due to the shininess of the premise. But a truly quality book, YA or otherwise, doesn’t let the premise detract from the characters and their arcs.

Overall, it’s not a bad book, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more from this author after her writing has matured a bit. After all, there’s quite a bit of competition in this genre.

Conclusion: 75/100 (Above average, but not going to be a classic)
Premise: 8/10 (Strong premise, well-handled, but not perfect)
Plot: 9/10 (Many good plot twists)
Setting: 7/10 (Pretty typical small town, nothing memorable)
Main Character: 7/10 (Not great, but we see so little of her)
Format 9/10 (Loved the multi-viewpoint structure)
Romance Sub-plot 6/10 (I liked how the relationship turned out, but it wasn’t brilliant)
Supporting Characters: 6/10 (Lacked nuance and were a bit stereotypical)
Writing: 6/10 (Decent, but not great)
Themes: 8/10 (I love stories with unreliable narrators or rumours)
Resolution: 7/10 (Saw it coming, mostly, but still satisfying)

Buy Or Borrow: Buy paperback or borrow from the library.

Related: Cynsations: New Voice: Jennifer Mathieu

Similar Books:
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Christina Reads YA
Effortlessly Reading
Alexa Loves Books
Teen Librarian’s Toolbox
Kirkus Reviews
YA Midnight Reads

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
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Kindle UK Unavailable
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